Julia Lindsay was on a successful path in the investment and wholesale banking world, where — for the most part — she enjoyed her time. However, she eventually went through a rough patch where she found herself quite miserable, and that misery seeped into work.

“I didn’t have a sense that I was looking forward to go into work, and to be perfectly honest I think it affected my output, which of course made me feel worse,” she said. This rough patch led Lindsay to resign and leave the sector entirely. Reflecting on what made her go through that miserable phase, she eventually realized that she did not feel like she fit in with the culture of the organization. When asked if there was anything her company could have done to change her mind about leaving, she said that because she didn’t have more insight into herself, she suspects no one was particularly aware of her unhappiness.

That lack of awareness of what is going on within your company and teams is worrisome, according to Lindsay, now the CEO of the iOpener Institute for People & Performance, because happy employees are more likely to be engaged, more focused on their work and more productive, resulting in greater success for the business; whereas unhappy employees are less likely to contribute, resulting in loss of productivity and time for the business.

This can be especially concerning in the software development industry, where because of the high demand for skills and limited supply, developers have more opportunities to switch jobs, companies and projects if they are not happy in their current situation. Speaking of his own experiences, Dragos Barosan, a software engineer for the software company Pegasystems, explained that “good developers are really core assets for business survival and success in this day and age.”

If businesses are suffering from a lack of developer or employee retention, it can result in diminished innovation and productivity, as well as add to costs  associated with recruiting, advertising and training, explained Barosan.

What iOpener’s Lindsay did find she enjoyed about her previous job was taking on leadership roles that focused on creating teams where people trusted one another, respected one another and had a shared vision of what they were trying to do. “I was interested in creating that type of environment. At the time. I didn’t call it a happy workplace, but that was in effect what it was,” she said.

That interest led Lindsay to join the iOpener Institute in 2004. The iOpener Institute has dedicated its business to helping organizations create workspaces where teams thrive and flourish because they believe happiness at work is the key to success for not only individuals, but for organizations overall. “We try to engage the whole organization because individuals have to take some responsibility as well as the leadership of the organization,” said Lindsay. The institute’s Science of Happiness at Work solution was designed to foster creativity and resilience as well as increase innovation, productivity and performance.

Based on the institute’s findings, Lindsay explained happy employees are more likely to take fewer  sick days, be more energized, stay at a organization twice as long and be twice as productive. “We define happiness at work as a mindset which enables action to maximize performance and achieve potential,” she said.

Finding out what makes teams happy, and how to keep them happy
Through her research at the institute, Lindsay has found that as businesses today move and change so quickly,  that can sometimes leave teams feeling left in the dust. “There is a constant need for speed, making decisions quickly, getting things done quickly, and just trying to go faster and faster,” she said.

This need for speed is evident in industries where teams are pressured to deliver high-quality software to market before their competitors. But that sense of urgency can leave teams feeling burnt out, and forced to ship features before they are ready. When that happens, what businesses end up with are brittle or difficult-to-add features, according to Andy Cleff, director of product engineering and agility at the wealth management company RobustWealth.

“The only way people can really successfully contribute to speed is by being happy at work,” said Lindsay. “If you are not happy at work, then you won’t be able to keep up because you won’t have the energy to do so.”

Cleff clarified that healthy and resilient teams are more likely to do the right thing when it comes to building software, such as not taking any shortcuts or starting bad habits.

But while the word happiness is easy to talk about, Lindsay explained businesses have to set out to understand what builds happiness at work, what detracts from it, and what kind of impact results from that happiness or unhappiness.

“Technology is the easy part. Culture is the challenge,” according to Carmen DeArdo, senior strategist for Tasktop.

Software engineer Barosan believes “a happy developer who loves his job will go the extra mile to accomplish tasks in a timely and quality manner. I know a lot of cases of people willingly staying extra hours over schedule, without even expecting overtime compensation, just because they were engaged and motivated by what they were doing,” he said. “This comes at the complete opposite to an unhappy, bored developer who constantly checks his watch to see how much time is left until he can leave the office.”

Happiness can occur by simply taking the time to give people feedback, showing them appreciation, offering recognition, and making sure people are clear how what they are doing fits into the bigger picture of the business, according to Lindsay. “A lot of this boils down to things that sound really simple. However, as simple as it sounds, quite often we just don’t do it,” she said.

In addition, Barosan says factors such as money, management and benefits could also have a direct impact on a team or individual’s happiness. While verbal recognition is always a plus, monetary compensation can boost a developer’s feelings about work. “Of course there are companies who just can’t afford to pay as much money as some of the bigger corporations can. Their main option is to compensate the difference in some other ways: startups give a decent part of equity of the company as an incentive, others give a lot more free days, shorter working hours or complete flexibility to the employee in term of his working schedule,” he wrote in a blog post about developer happiness.

Barosan does note that increasing salary can be a Band-Aid fix or an “instant gratification pill of happiness.” For instance, if a salary increase only happens once a year, happiness can wear off. Barosan recommends taking an approach where salary is increased through small increments throughout the year, if possible.

If things like salary increases are not possible within your company, Barosan suggested things like sending employees to conferences and training sessions as well as covering travel expenses as a way to reward developers.

As for management, Barosan explained a team’s direct manager as well as upper management can have an impact on the level of happiness. “Managers that cannot foster that sense of loyalty towards them will have a higher turnover rate in their teams,” Barosan wrote. “Now matter how hard the direct manager tries, if the people in control of the company and its finances will see the development offices as a cost center instead of a profit center, then the developers will fully feel the consequences of that attitude.”

Other ways Barosan believes developer happiness can be improved is through team events that foster personal and bonding relationships, minimal bureaucracy, communication with customers, flexible schedules, good tools, transparency and clear responsibilities.

“First the company has to identify the root causes of the unhappiness and then a number of decision paths will emerge on what to do next,” said Barosan. “I do not think there is a universal recipe on the best approach. It all depends on a lot of diverse factors that are not very easy to aggregate and correlate together: the profile of the employees, the industry in which the business operates, the local culture of where the office is located, the economic situation of the company and the country in which it operates, etc.”

Once an organization becomes knowledgeable on the contributing factors to team happiness, it is important to measure and constantly remeasure initiatives to improve happiness and business value over time. “There is an old adage of if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it or improve it,” said Lindsay. “Whether you agree with that sentiment or not, I would recommend people try to measure it and measure it over time because the workplace is not static.”

Tasktop’s DeArdo explained his company looks at metrics based on value, cost and quality from a business perspective as well as the progress and workflow from the team. According to DeArdo, this enables the business to see how team happiness impacts the business ROI. For instance, if a team is overloaded with work, that will result in negative impacts on how quickly they produce work, how much work they produce and their happiness. “If the distribution of work is only focused on features, but doesn’t take into account debt, then that tends to accumulate and become a negative factor in terms of team happiness,” said DeArdo. So DeArdo suggested also paying attention to defects, risks and debt.

In addition, there need to be retrospectives on how teams think they can do better and go faster, so they feel more responsible for the business, DeArdo explained.  

The A3 approach
Tasktop’s Carmen DeArdo is an advocate for Toyota’s A3 approach to managing work and teams. when trying to identify reasons teams are not happy or not improving. A3 is an approach to problem-solving and continuous improvement, named after the ISO A3-size paper usually used in the approach. The approach includes a worksheet with information such as the team members, stakeholders, departments, start date, and possible duration of the team. Then it goes through steps such as clarifying the problem, breaking down the problems, setting a target, analyzing the root cause, developing countermeasures, implementing countermeasures, monitoring results and process, and standardizing and sharing success.

According to DeArdo, if you are working with a group that is unhappy, A3 can narrow down the issue and shed light on why doesn’t the team feel like they are able to improve and are in control. In addition, with A3 teams can identify the problem, brainstorm potential causes and experiment, he explained.

“There are a whole bunch of tools out there, but if you don’t get the culture right, you are never going to be as productive as you want to be,” said DeArdo. <<END BOX>>

Tools for measuring team health and happiness include:

  • Atlassian Team Health Monitors: Atlassian’s health checks and playbooks for various types of teams.
  • Comparative Agility’s Agile Assessment: Actionable insight into efforts at the team, program and organization level.
  • iOpener iPPQ: A questionnaire that looks into 25 specific elements to offer insight about team happiness and make recommendations for improving that happiness.
  • Management 30’s 12 steps to happiness: Twelve different areas that businesses can experiment with and monitor results.
  • MoodApp: A solution for gaining daily feedback on whether teams were satisfied or unsatisfied, and what the business can do differently.
  • Team Barometer: A survey where team members vote yellow, red or green for topics like trust, collaboration feedback and meeting engagement.
  • TeamMetrics: A tool for gathering data on team morale, and scores based on that data.
  • TeamMood: Daily emails on how your team members feel at the end of the day so you can gauge the average team’s mood.

Businesses need to be constantly measuring the status of their teams, whether that is through surveys, health checks or one-on-one meetings. “There are always opportunities for improvement, so depending on the lens you look through you are going to find problems are either big or small. There are problems everywhere, and they are waiting to be solved,” said Andy Cleff, director of product engineering and agility at the wealth management company RobustWealth.

The iOpener’s performance-happiness model
iOpener Institute’s performance-happiness model looks at three key areas:

Trust: According to iOpener’s CEO Julia Lindsay, without trust there is no team. In order to build trust, leaders and teams need to improve their communication skills and dig deeper into issues at hand.

Recognition: It is important for employees to be recognized for the work they are doing, according to Lindsay. “Saying thank you, or well done can make a real difference. Give credit freely and acknowledge the contributions of others,” she said.

Pride: Taking pride in your work results in greater self-worth and self-esteem, Lindsay explained. “ Pride is a catalyst for focusing on task, effort, and persistence. Raising the level of pride people have for the organization and their contribution to it is a win-win for everyone. Praise effort and its results – why it matters and what a positive difference it has made to the team,” she said.

In addition, the iOpener Institute focuses on 5Cs when it comes to performance and happiness at work:

  1. Contribution
  2. Conviction
  3. Culture
  4. Commitment
  5. Confidence

“The key to measuring happiness is asking the right questions to identify the underlying themes which affect happiness at work, and where a team is or isn’t thriving,” said Lindsay.